...free to think freely


22nd May 2023

RSE: Mandated Confusion?

Writers in Spiked, perhaps most notably Dr Joanna Williams, endlessly complain about what they see as an epidemic of over-sexualised content being taught to children routinely in our schools. Some schools’ heads explicitly deny this happens. Not surprisingly, the public is both concerned and confused.

One would think such confusion should not occur. After all, whatever an individual’s view on the matter, school curricula ought to be publicly available for inspection so it should be a simple matter to establish exactly what is taught. If that is not the case, the public is entitled to ask why.

On 9th May, the BBC’s File on Four reported on the issue, but seemed unable to dispel the basic confusion. What it did do was expose the incompetence with which Government has implemented a policy of deep public concern. For, the programme suggested, while passing a law requiring all schools to teach Relationship and Sex Education, it has neither defined a syllabus for the subject (or given guidance on what children should learn about as they grow through the stages of childhood) nor provided training for teachers tasked with presenting it. As a result, schools have been left grappling with and trying to guess what they ought to teach and tasking teachers lacking any specific knowledge with a subject about which they know virtually nothing. They did cost the support schools might need and then set only a quarter of the sum aside for the purpose and have not defined on what, precisely, that money should be spent.

If the BBC’s analysis is correct, it’s not surprising the public is confused. The schools can’t explain what they’re doing for the simple reason they don’t know either. This is a serious state of affairs, and leaves teachers and governors grasping at any source of information they can find, but there are no utterly authoritative sources for the simple reason the whole area is awash with conflicting theories and campaigns mostly based on the preferences of activists, phenomenological and emotional research, correlations lacking clear causality and, well, more confusion. Hard, soundly-based science is hard to come by, it it exists at all. It’s unsurprising what is taught is highly subjective, very variable, full of extreme and extremist prejudices and at its fringes, probably dangerous to both the health of children and the well-being of Society.

This is a fundamental failure of Government to protect the most vulnerable in our society: the children. It is a massive safeguarding failure, and it has been implemented not against, but by the government itself. Why are people not up in arms?

It is just as well that they aren’t, because mobs never bring clarity to a situation. We do not know the detailed rights and wrongs because that needs detailed, calm, soundly-based research, and that, in turn takes time. Children do not have time. They grow up faster than a body of research can be put together. They are bombarded with pornography through their mobile phones. Possibly, children should not be allowed smartphones in the same way they are not allowed to drink alcohol or drive cars, because the adult content exposed by them is simply inappropriate. However, given they are, it’s obvious some sort of preparation for what they might find or be told must be provided. The problem is how to define what, in an area lacking in hard facts, they should be told.

In such a case, one would have thought a minimal subject covering basic safety and balance and highlighting the dangers of misinformation and nonsense peddled on these platforms, urging restraint and scepticism, would be most appropriate, but that needs to be spelt out so teachers are relieved of trying to find information as likely to be wrong as that the children find. Unfortunately, anything more detailed is as likely to be wrong as it is to be right, and getting it wrong is just too dangerous to risk.